The American Academy of Pediatrics states the purpose of vaccines nicely: "The ultimate goal of immunization is the elimination of disease; the immediate goal is prevention of disease in people or groups."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have made huge strides in preventing disease spread. Comprehensive immunization programs have rendered the global eradication of smallpox, which was achieved in 1977. We had similar success with elimination of polio from the Americas in 1991.
Measles was nearly eliminated in the United States, but the publication of Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent research paper, claiming the vaccine was responsible for autism, resulted in a significant setback. The data Wakefield reported had been falsified, and the claims were later disproven.
Unfortunately, many parents bought into the Wakefield study, and their unvaccinated children are at risk of measles and other preventable diseases. According to the CDC, the recent measles outbreak in California is responsible for 117 new cases of measles in the United States from January 1 to June 26. The majority of people who contracted measles were unvaccinated.
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With the increasing number of unvaccinated individuals in some communities, the population is at higher risk due to the loss of "herd immunity." With herd immunity, disease is less likely to invade the community if a high percentage of the population (herd) is protected by vaccine. We depend on this protection to keep newborns too young for vaccines safe, as well as children and adults with fragile immune systems.
Most vaccines are recommended to be administered in the first two years of life. With the current vaccine schedule set by the CDC, we can now protect children against two forms of meningitis, two forms of hepatitis, as well as tetanus, diphtheria, polio, whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and rotovirus.
Adolescents are protected from a third form of meningitis as well as the cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV). Recommended adult vaccines include booster doses of tetanus, whooping cough, shingles and a type of bacterial pneumonia.
The flu vaccine is recommended yearly for everyone age 6 months and older.
We are fortunate in Lexington that the majority of our community embraces vaccines and has been immunized, but we are not all protected. Information on vaccines, including the appropriate ages to receive certain vaccines, may be found on the American Academy of Pediatrics website at Aap.org, or the CDC website at Cdc.gov.